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The inevitable rise of the cycling for all

Grant Incles on why protecting lives through a better road infrastructure, lorry design and driver awareness of cyclists and pedestrians, is good for our towns, cities, and for all of us

Grant heads up the cycling team at Leigh Day in London. He is a devoted cyclist and uses a bike every day, for fitness and to commute around London. You can follow Grant on twitter @gincles_lawyer
I live in London. Someone I met at a family thing recently who also lives in London, when he heard I like to ride my bike quite a lot, referred to himself as a ‘keen cyclist’ but said that he wouldn’t ever ride through central London because it is too dangerous.

He went on very quickly to say “…of course they (and I’m afraid he meant riders of bicycles) have mostly only got themselves to blame.”.

I am English, this man was older than me and I didn’t want to cause a scene at a party, so regrettably I said something passive like, “Oh, I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that…”.

What I wanted to say was something like: First thing’s first, and let’s get it straight: riding a bicycle is not dangerous. It is the antithesis of dangerous. It’s good for your health, for your pocket , for the environment and therefore for us all.

The problem is that we only seem to be waking up to these facts en masse relatively recently and so, for many years, we have been setting up our road systems in a way that means this overwhelmingly positive experience is all too often hampered by danger.

We like to build stuff. And there is nothing wrong with that. To build stuff though we need industrial vehicles and they tend to be large and made predominantly of metal.

So here we are, in our towns and cities slowly but I hope surely coming to the realisation that walking and cycling are generally better alternatives to driving cars but we are still engaged, quite properly, in constructing practical and sustainable buildings.

riding a bicycle is not dangerous. It is the antithesis of dangerous.

There is no escaping the fact that, as a result, riders of bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians will increasingly need to share our roads in very close proximity to massive chunks of metal operated (for the time being at least) by human beings, and the potential for conflict is as real as it is in any human-controlled environment.

Unfortunately in the event of conflict in this situation, there is rarely a good outcome for the vulnerable road user.

For the purpose of this blog I concentrate on cyclists because it is a group whose risk in this situation seems to be growing rapidly and a group that I am passionate about representing.

What I am not ever going to do is engage in or entertain victim blaming of any kind. Of course it is generally advisable for a person riding a bicycle to exercise care when approaching a junction at which a large (or any) vehicle is in front or stationary.

We know that and we do not need heavy handed stickering or ‘public information’ films implicating cyclists’ behaviour as the primary or even a major part of that particular problem.

Contrary to worryingly popular belief, this is not generally the reason why vulnerable road users are hurt by lorries. In fact the main contributory factors to death and serious injury resulting from this sort of interaction on our roads are:

1. Poor lorry design;
2. Poor road infrastructure; and
3. Poor driver awareness

There are really good initiatives happening in the world of lorry design to remedy the danger to cyclists created by driver’s blind spots through both the technology of the cab and training of drivers, but as it stands there is no mandatory regulatory standard for either vehicle manufacturers or the construction industry and so there is some considerable way to go before we can say that real change is being achieved.

As for our roads, the recent progress we have seen in the form of the cycle superhighways is a great start but it is geographically and socio-politically tiny in proportion to the work that needs to be done to eradicate as far as is humanly possible the needless harm that can occur when a bicycle rider happens to find themselves in one of the umpteen blind-spots of a left-turning lorry.

We have got to do more to create an environment that encourages cycling and at the same time protect those people choosing alternative methods of getting around against dangerous interactions.

On the issue of left-turning lorries in particular, there are numerous initiatives to consider, including of course segregation of vulnerable groups but also blind-spot reduction by vehicle design, driver education and reducing the volume of construction traffic at peak times.

Ultimately, in the absence of mandatory design and training requirements, often what works best is to effect change through altering competition.

This is something that TfL, via CLOCS, to their credit is trying to do by placing a preference with contractors tendering for major construction works who incorporate certain basic standards of works vehicle and driver training standards.

So there is good work going on, but the point of this blog is to highlight that as long as this conflict continues to exist, it is a problem to be solved.

Change doesn’t happen unless we get the message out to people like the chap at my family do last week that people who get hurt on bikes, of which he counts himself as one, have not mostly got themselves to blame. They are victims in the transition to better towns and cities for all of us and have to be better supported.

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